This month’s southern Taurian meteor shower will show bright fireballs in the sky
A bright fireball is seen over Brkini, Slovenia, on Nov. 12, 2015, during a Taurid swarm. Another swarm is approaching us this month, with fireballs appearing in the sky in November. (Marko Korosec, Solent News, Shutterstock)
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ATLANTA – It doesn’t matter that Halloween is over because “Halloween Fireballs,” as NASA calls themwill continue to shine brightly in the night sky for the next several weeks, thanks to the southern Taurid meteor shower.
The estimated peak of the storm is not until Saturday 5 November according to EarthSkyand the Taurids are known for producing the most and brightest fireballs – meteors that may appear brighter than the planet Venus.
This year’s squall is expected to contain a greater number of fireballs, otherwise known as a Taurid swarm. The southern Taurides mostly only about five meteors per hour around its peak, the point where the Earth is closest to the center of the debris stream. But every seven years, Jupiter’s gravity pulls on the meteor stream, causing a spike in their numbers.
“At the normal rate for fireballs, someone would have to sit outside for 20 hours straight to see one,” said Robert Lunsford, fireball reports coordinator for the American Meteor Society. “With the Taurides, (that time) can be shortened quite a bit, maybe to five hours. And if you’re really lucky, you can just step out and see one in a few minutes. When they show up is totally unpredictable.”
Origin of the Taurides
The Taurids are the result of the disintegration of a very large comet about 20,000 years ago. That breakup created, among other things, Comet Encke, which has an orbit around the sun for just over three years, the shortest of all major comets in our solar system. With each passage of Earth in its short orbit, it leaves a trail of debris. This trail includes the southern Taurides, which are a cluster so large that it takes our planet several weeks to pass through.
“Most meteor showers contain small bits of dust. Well, the Taurids … also have some large particles,” said Bill Cooke, head of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office. “And you’ll see, while the shower is running, not dust particles, but pebble-sized particles—and some (those) are football-sized and bigger, producing, of course, brilliant, brilliant fireballs.”
See a fireball
Fireballs of the Taurids are meteors larger than a meter wide, and they shine exceptionally bright, according to NASA. They move slowly because they strike the Earth’s atmosphere at a perpendicular angle, so you can see them move through the sky for a few seconds, unlike the millisecond visibility that most meteors provide. According to Lunsford, the brighter and more durable meteors can fragment and fall apart as they travel through the sky. Often the fireballs are colorful and appear red, orange or yellow.
“It would be like a shooting star,” said Mike Hankey, operations manager for the American Meteor Society and creator of the fireball tracking program. “But instead of lasting half a second, it could last three or four seconds, and instead of being as bright as a star, it could be as bright as the moon — sometimes even brighter.”
It would be like a shooting star. But instead of lasting half a second, it could last three or four seconds, and instead of being as bright as a star, it could be as bright as the moon — sometimes even brighter.
—Mike Hankey, American Meteor Society
This year, the meteor company has already recorded an above-average increase in fireballs, while NASA has photographed fireballs that appear even brighter than the moon in the night sky.
According to Lunsford, the best time to go out and spot a fireball is at 2 a.m. local time next week. As the moon approaches the full moon stage, set for November 8, its brightness will begin to interfere with the chances of fainter meteors, but fireballs can be seen anywhere in the world, at any time during the night, because of their size and brightness.
Other space events this year
There are four more meteor showers you could see in the rest of 2022, according to EarthSky’s 2022 Meteor Shower Guide:
• November 12: Northern Taurians
• Nov. 18: Leonidas
• December 14: Geminids
• December 22: Ursiden
And there are still two full moons on it The old farmer’s almanac 2022 calendar:
• November 8: Beaver Moon (which will peak next to a total lunar eclipse)
• December 7: Cold Moon
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